Once you have your business up and running, it soon becomes apparent how much you need to learn, how difficult it can be to find new clients, and how challenging it is to find reliable vendors. Perhaps these are the challenges that first spawned the idea of an “expo,” but the concept is still very much alive.
When a small business owner needs to gain new product knowledge or valuable industry exposure, there are very few places to do this more efficiently than at an expo. As a relative “newbie” to the industry, you may need to strengthen your list of contacts and who can’t benefit from a major networking blitz?
If you haven’t yet attended an industry expo, now is the time to plan it. Most industries have a few organizations that plan events like this on a regular basis. Do your research first and find out which ones are truly worth attending, being careful to weigh the cost of attendance against the potential return on investment.
How to prepare for your first business expo:
So you’re ready to take that first big step and attend a major event, expo or trade show? If you want to make the most of this experience then it’s important to be prepared. Here are five tips to help you take advantage of the unique opportunities that an expo affords.
First, do your homework
Attending an expo can be time consuming, and not just during the event itself. A successful trip to an expo will include a lot of preparation in advance, all of which will be worth it in the end. Look on the expo’s web site for a list of attendees as well as an idea of who will be showing what. The site might also include more details on the agenda, as well as an attendee contact list. Make sure you spend some time with this list and get to know the companies that will be exhibiting.
Look for the experienced veterans
In addition to the products and services featured at the event, industry expos are also chock full of experience and advice. Expos can make everyone feel like a family; like the whole industry is at your feet and interested in your product. Try to mistake friendliness for interest. You may have to do some “selling” in order to engage the higher-ups at major and decision makers.
Be honest and real
You may not be one of the “experts” in your industry yet, so don’t go to an expo with that in mind. Be willing to open every conversation with a “disclaimer” that you are new to the expo and to the industry, and express a sincere interest in learning from this experience. Surprisingly, you may find people from other companies are anxious to share their stories, make introductions and help you feel at home. Being honest and real will help you reap tremendous rewards.
Be strategic and stay focused
To take the pressure off what might be a daunting experience, study the map of exhibitors and make note of which ones you want to hit. Once you’re done meeting these important contacts, go around and meet more people. Also, remember to bring a lot of business cards and your tablet computer. This way, if you’re telling someone about your great new product, you can take them right to your website during the conversation.
In the interest of full disclosure, have you ever heard about an expo or trade show that didn’t include a certain amount of “social drinking?” If the event is held at a resort location, try to stay at the main hotel. You may be amazed at the number of contacts you make at the restaurants and bars. People typically let their guard down in social settings, which will give you many opportunities to network.
While all of these tips are great for the expo itself, it is important that you “close the loop” when you get back to the office. You may feel like you are overloaded with information and invigorated by all the potential opportunities, but these events are only as fruitful as your follow-up. Make sure you send emails to important contacts while you are still fresh in their mind. Whenever possible, throw in a tidbit about what you discussed. This will help them remember your name amongst all the other contacts they made.
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